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Ernest Lehman

Ernest Lehman

The Ernest Lehman Collection

Though Ernest Lehman is best known today for his work in films (he has won more Best Screenplay Awards from the Writer's Guild than anyone in the Guild's history), his collection, which consists of over 2500 items from his personal and professional files, covers an entire career that spans over forty years in New York and Hollywood, not only as a screenwriter but also as a novelist, short story writer, journalist, motion picture producer and director.

Included in this vast archive -- extensively annotated in Lehman's own handwriting -- are business and personal correspondence, early short story and article writings, outlines and successive drafts of all screenplays, original, holograph versions of short stories, novels, articles and films, synopses, typescripts, galley proofs and page proofs of books, working papers, film budgets, technical drawings, contracts, publicity materials, pressbooks, production and location still photographs of film projects, magazine and newspaper articles by and about Lehman, speeches by Lehman, hardcover and paperback books by Lehman, press reviews of films, books and other Lehman writings, his memos to and from studio heads and publishers and other colleagues, memorabilia, scrapbooks, awards, citations, story board sketches of film projects, his 200,000-word diary (still sealed) of the making of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, his personal correspondence with Alfred Hitchcock regarding NORTH BY NORTHWEST, FAMILY PLOT and THE SHORT NIGHT, 80 hours of Lehman-Hitchcock story conference audio tapes, the final scripts of the 59th, 60th and 62nd annual Academy Awards telecasts, Lehman's personal correspondence files as president of The Writer's Guild of America West, and countless other materials from a myriad of activities, so well annotated with descriptive notes in Lehman's handwriting that students, scholars and journalists should have no trouble tracing the development of Lehman projects from their inception through first notes, outlines, drafts and revisions, to their final form. The success or failure, the final outcome of each project, is unfailingly reflected in extensive coverage by the media.

Lehman with Alfred Hitchcock on location during the shooting of NORTH BY NORTHWEST. 1958.

Lehman with Alfred Hitchcock on location during the shooting of NORTH BY

If only for its uniquely personal history of each film in this archive -- EXECUTIVE SUITE, SABRINA, THE KING AND I, SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, FROM THE TERRACE, WEST SIDE STORY, THE PRIZE, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, HELLO DOLLY!, FAMILY PLOT, PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, BLACK SUNDAY -- the Ernest Lehman Collection would have to be considered outstanding in its richness and complexity. And yet there is more to the collection than that.

Ernest Lehman's first professional written work, a profile of Ted Lewis, the famous top-hatted bandleader, was published in Collier's magazine in 1939. For the next thirteen years, Lehman's short stories, novelettes and articles appeared in a variety of national magazines including Collier's, Esquire, Liberty, Redbook, The American Mercury and Cosmopolitan. Among the best-known of his fiction works are the novelettes, THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, which was made into a movie in 1956, and THE COMEDIAN, which became an Emmy Award winner for Playhouse 90 on CBS-TV in 1957. First published in Cosmopolitan magazine, both novelettes were then published as paperback books by The New American Library in 1957.(Lehman's first long-form hardcover novel, THE FRENCH ATLANTIC AFFAIR, was published twenty years later.

Lehman with Elizabeth Taylor during the shooting of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. 1965.

Lehman with Elizabeth Taylor during the shooting of WHO'S AFRAID OF

It was in 1952 that fiction writer and journalist Ernest Lehman was brought out from New York to Hollywood by Paramount Pictures to become a screenwriter. He was immediately loaned out to MGM, where he wrote his very first screenplay, EXECUTIVE SUITE, for producer John Houseman and director Robert Wise. Following that, he returned to Paramount where he collaborated with Billy Wilder and Samuel Taylor on the screenplay for SABRINA, which earned him a Golden Globe award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a Best Comedy Screenplay award from the Screenwriters Guild, and his first Academy Award nomination.

After SABRINA, Lehman moved on to 20th Century Fox to write the screenplay for THE KING AND I, based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. The picture won four of the eight Academy Awards for which it was nominated, and earned Lehman his second award for Best Musical Screenplay from the Screenwriters Guild.

In 1954, he was back at MGM working on a film project for John Houseman that was tentatively titled THE LABOR STORY, based on an original idea by John Bartlow Martin. But Lehman left the project before beginning a first draft of the script. Instead, still at MGM, he went to work writing the screenplay for SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME, based on the autobiography of Rocky Graziano, one-time middleweight champion of the world. Starring and launching the career of Paul Newman, this was to be the second of four Lehman films directed by Robert Wise. It was nominated by the Screenwriters Guild as Best Dramatic Screenplay.

Lehman with Gene Kelly and Barbara Streisand on the set of HELLO, DOLLY! 1968.

Lehman with Gene Kelly and Barbara Streisand on the set of HELLO,
DOLLY! 1968

United Artists, in the person of independent producers Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, called on Lehman in 1956 to write the film version of SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, based on his previously published novelette. After writing several drafts of the screenplay, and just before principal photogaphy was to begin in New York with director Alexander Mackendrick, Lehman left the project because of illness, and Clifford Odets was called in to do the final draft. Odets and Lehman shared screen credit for what is now regarded as a film classic.

In 1957, Lehman began working at MGM on his own original story, MAN AGAINST HIMSELF, with producer Alan Pakula. He left the project after writing a first draft screenplay, and went to work instead on THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE, for producer-director Alfred Hitchcock at MGM. After an unproductive month, Lehman informed Hitchcock that he intended to resign from the project, unable to find a satisfactory means of translating the Hammond Innes novel into a screenplay. Whereupon Hitchcock suggested that they drop MARY DEARE, and that Lehman create a new, original story and screenplay instead. The result was NORTH BY NORTHWEST, for which Lehman received his second Academy Award nomination.

Two pages of notes made by Lehman during his meeting with Maria Von Trapp while writing the screenplay for THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Two pages of notes made by Lehman during his meeting with
Maria Von Trapp while writing the screenplay for THE SOUND

In 1959, he returned to 20th Century Fox where he wrote the screenplay for FROM THE TERRACE, based on the novel by John O'Hara. Produced and directed by Mark Robson, the picture reunited Lehman with actor Paul Newman. After that came WEST SIDE STORY for the Mirisch Company at United Artists. Based on the Broadway musical, WEST SIDE STORY won the Oscar as the best picture of the year. Lehman's screenplay was his third with director Robert Wise, and earned him his third Writers Guild Award and his third Academy Award nomination.

In 1960, Lehman returned to Paramount, where he interested Alfred Hitchchock in an original story idea tentatively titled BLIND MAN. After several weeks of discussion and a partial outline, both men decided to abandon the project. Lehman moved on to MGM, where he wrote the screenplay for THE PRIZE, based on the novel by Irving Wallace. The film, which starred Paul Newman, was produced by Pandro Berman and directed by Mark Robson. In 1962 Lehman began his fourth collaboration with producer-director Robert Wise, writing the screenplay for THE SOUND OF MUSIC at 20th Century Fox. The film went on to win worldwide critical acclaim and the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1965. For Lehman, it would be his fourth Writers Guild Award.

Next he went over to Warner Brothers, for the first time to produce, as well as to write, the screen version of Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Released in 1966, the film garnered thirteen Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture for producer Lehman, and earned him his fourth Academy Award nomination for screenwriting, and his fifth Writers Guild award. The picture won a total of four Oscars.

Next came HELLO, DOLLY! at 20th Century Fox, with Lehman once again serving as producer and writer. The Barbara Streisand musical, directed by Gene Kelly, was nominated in 1969 for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won three Oscars.

From 1970 to 1972, Lehman was occupied with writing, producing and directing (for the first time) the film version of Philip Roth's novel, PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, at Warner Brothers. In 1972, Lehman was given the Writers Guild's highest honor, the Laurel Award, for achievement in film. Also in 1972, Lehman's screenplay for NORTH BY NORTHWEST was published in a hardbound and a paperbound edition by The Viking Press.

In 1973 he rejoined Alfred Hitchcock at Universal to write the screenplay for what would be the director's last film, FAMILY PLOT.

Lehman then went to 20th Century Fox and started as writer-producer on THE 8TH WONDER OF THE WORLD. He wrote a partial first draft screenplay then decided to abandon the project to resume work on a novel.

Lehman had already begun work on his first full-length novel, THE FRENCH ATLANTIC AFFAIR. After FAMILY PLOT, and THE 8TH WONDER OF THE WORLD, he returned to work on the book, then left it again in 1975 to write the screenplay for BLACK SUNDAY for producer Robert Evans and director John Frankenheimer at Paramount. When BLACK SUNDAY was released, Lehman shared writing credits with Kenneth Ross and Ivan Moffat.

THE FRENCH ATLANTIC AFFAIR was finally completed, and published by Atheneum, in 1977, and the softcover edition, published by Warner Books, followed soon after. Also in 1977, Lehman became a monthly columnist for American Film magazine, and continued to write LEHMAN AT LARGE for the next three years.

A page from an early draft of NORTH BY NORTHWEST

A page from an early draft of NORTH BY NORTHWEST

In 1979, he wrote the screenplay for another Alfred Hitchcock project at Universal, THE SHORT NIGHT, but Hitchcock's failing health precluded the possibility of the film ever being made.

Following that, Lehman worked on an independent film venture titled BRENDA STARR, REPORTER, but his script was abandoned after the third draft in 1980.

He then began work on his second novel, FAREWELL PERFORMANCE. It was published by McGraw-Hill in 1982. Later that year, a collection of Lehman's columns from American Film were published in book form by G. P. Putnam's Sons under the title SCREENING SICKNESS And Other Tales of Tinsel Town.

From 1983 to 1985, Lehman served as president of The Writer's Guild of America, West.

In 1986, he rejoined producer-director Robert Wise at Cannon Films to write the screenplay for I AM ZORBA!, a musical version of the novel and motion picture, ZORBA THE GREEK. The production company dissolved before the film could be made. Meanwhile, in 1987, 1988 and 1990, Lehman served as writer and creative coordinator for the 59th, 60th and 62nd annual Academy Awards Show on ABC-TV.

In May of 1990, Lehman published "The Waxing," a satirical piece, in Los Angeles Magazine. In 1991, he went to London to adapt Noel Coward's HAY FEVER to the screen for producer Roger Peters and director Lindsay Andersen (a film as yet unmade). In May 1992, he published "Names I Never Dropped Till Now," a humorous essay, in The Journal of the Writer's Guild, West. And in 1993, he was finishing the final draft of an original screenplay, DANCING IN THE DARK, and beginning work on an as yet untitled autobiography. Also in its earliest stages was the development of a Broadway stage musical version of Lehman's novella and film, to be called THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS.

Ernest Lehman Chronology


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